The ultimate color barrier

Savoring Sen. Barack Obama's achievement, and the grace with which he accomplished it.
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Supporters of Sen. Barack Obama and Gov. Chris Gregoire in downtown Seattle before the polls closed.

Savoring Sen. Barack Obama's achievement, and the grace with which he accomplished it.

Oh, yes, I say it plain, America never was America to me. And yet, I swear this oath — America will be!Langston Hughes, 1938

There will be time for serious analysis of last night's election returns, but first we should take a moment to recognize the milestone they represented.

Only 48 years since John F. Kennedy was elected the first Catholic president, 44 years since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and 40 years since the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, an African American, was elected president of the United States. He carried southern, northeastern, midwestern, and western states. His victory was unquivocal. His victory speech was generous, unifying, and large-minded. The concession speech of his defeated adversary, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, was equally so.

There will be future moments when a woman, Latino, Asian American, or Native American will be elected president. But this moment, above all others, will be marked as the one when we finally came fully to terms with what Gunnar Myrdal called "an American dilemma."

There was no anger in the night. Only joy. Here in Seattle, I left KUOW-FM's studios at 11 p.m. to find a crowd of several hundred rushing down University Way Northeast. There were cheering crowds as well at the Pike Place Market downtown and on Broadway on Capitol Hill.

For one who entered national politics in that 1960 campaign, motivated in large part by issues of justice and civil rights, it felt like coming finally home. God bless America.

Victory margin closer than expected

Given Obama's natural advantages in the campaign, listed in my Crosscut article of Monday, Nov. 3, I had expected his popular-vote victory margin to be larger than it turned out to be. McCain not only got a respectable percentage of the popular vote — far higher than those generated, for example, by losing candidates Barry Goldwater in 1964, George McGovern in 1972, or Walter Mondale in 1984 — but he carried a number of states and came close in others.

Democrats made gains in both the U.S. Senate and House but not in the numbers expected. They will not have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, thus necessitating bipartisan cooperation in dealing with big issues in the period ahead.

Here in Washington, Obama's margin was about as anticipated. Several Republican statewide candidates won. The gubernatorial race is not yet decided — despite Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire's premature victory declaration Tuesday night over Republican challenger Dino Rossi. Nor is the contest in the 8th District between U.S. Rep Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and challenger Darcy Burner.

Whether consciously or not, voters conferred power on Democrats but not so one-sidedly as to give them power unchecked.

State and local issues still in balance

Something must be done about our King County elections office and its procedures. There is no excusing the fact that, in this capital of information technology, a definitive vote count may not be completed for a week or more. Executive Ron Sims, meet Bill Gates.

We will not know until then, and perhaps not until later, the final outcome of the gubernatorial or 8th congressional distrct races or of several key ballot measures. We do know that Initiative 1000, the "death with dignity" measure, has passed without question, thus making Washington and Oregon the only two states with such laws.

I'll be back in a day or two with analysis of federal and state contests and issues. For now, it is time for bipartisan celebration of a national campaign well and fairly fought, culminating in an historic outcome. Yes we could.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk

Ted Van Dyk has been active in national policy and politics since 1961, serving in the White House and State Department and as policy director of several Democratic presidential campaigns. He is author of Heroes, Hacks and Fools and numerous essays in national publications. You can reach him in care of